Dubious data used to back-up claim about post-2010 education transformation

Janet Downs's picture

Biggest improvement in primary reading predated post-2010 reforms

The Tories have made ‘improvements’ in early literacy – ‘climbing back into the world top ten for primary school reading,’ writes education secretary Damian Hinds on Conservative Home.  

Hinds joins schools minister Nick Gibb in claiming that England’s inclusion in the top ten was caused by Gibb’s phonics obsession.  But that’s not true.

It’s too hasty to say if post-2010 policy changes improved PIRLS results, number crunchers at the Department for Education (DfE) say.  In any case, as I’ve said ad infinitum, the greater improvement was made in 2011 by children taught to read before 2010, children who, according to Gibb, were taught using ‘progressive’ methods.  

England tumbled down league tables in PISA tests during Labour years, Hinds falsely asserts

England ‘fell down the international [PISA} league tables in reading, maths and science’ during the Labour years.  But the tumbling down league tables in ten years is a myth (see faq here).  And there were only two valid PISA tests taken when Labour was in power: 2006 and 2009.  The latter showed a slight fall in the UK’s relative standing but consistency in scores.  UK fifteen-year-olds still performed at the OECD average for reading and maths, and above average in science.

Labour slashed school places, Hinds bellows

‘100,000 school places were cut,’ Hinds roars.   But school numbers were falling during the Labour years hence the cut.  Nevertheless, Labour still allocated money to ‘hot spots’ where need exceeded supply.  It was after the Coalition came to power that capital funding for schools was slashed by 60%. 

Hinds forgets caution when using Adult Skills survey results

‘In a survey of rich nations’, Hinds thunders, ‘…we were the only one in which the literacy and numeracy of young adults was no better than the generation about to retire.’   But Hinds, like other commentators before him, ignored the warning by OECD which ran the Adult Skills Survey that caution was needed in citing these results because of sampling problems.  These affected England and Northern Ireland more than all other countries but the OECD still stood by the flawed results

In any case, the OECD said this apparent lack of progress between the education standards of retirees and young people in England and Northern Ireland didn’t necessarily show a decline in education standards.  Young people in countries where retirees had very low levels of literacy and numeracy had been educated to a far higher standard than their grandparents.  This closed the gap between elders and young people – a gap which didn’t exist in England because babyboomers left school literate and numerate.

Can we expect these dubious statistics to be regurgitated at the Tory conference next week?  It’s highly likely.   Damian Hinds and his ministers appear to believe that if you repeat disputed data often enough it becomes truth.  This is shameful.



This is the third article debunking the factoids in Hinds’ Conservative Home article.    The other two are here and here.  

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agov's picture
Sun, 30/09/2018 - 10:18

"numbers were falling during the Labour years"

Are you entirely sure about that? They may have been falling in some areas not least because for decades the British were urged by governments to have small families as part of the worldwide (with some notable exceptions) campaign to reduce unsustainable population size but Labour was fully aware of the huge growth in migration numbers -



that it created. Of course, that government lied through its teeth about what it was doing.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 01/10/2018 - 10:21

agov -  Yes, as your figures show.  The population rose as a whole but birth rates fell between 1990 and 2002.  The need, therefore, was to reduce the number of school places.

Future school place supply relies on projections and there was no reason in 2002 to think the falling trend in birth rates would not continue.  It began to rise but the ONS projected this would flatline after 2005 (see p16 of 2013 NAO report on school capital funding in link below).    By 2008 it was clear the birth rate rise wasn't a blip.  The ONS pulished revised projections (see NAO report).  

The Labour government responded by allocating core capital funding 'totaling £400 million a year from 2007-8 to 2010-11 to help cover local growth in need for places' (source NAO, see here for link).

In 2013, Gove said Labour had slashed 200,000 school places  during its tenure  (but, remember, tbe birth rate was falling during the first five years of Labour's term in office and was projected to flatline in 2005).   Five years later, the present education secretary says the number of slashed places was 100,000.  That's half the amount Gove shouted about. If the Tories are going to crow about the number of school places cut under Labour then they should at least get the numbers right.


PS  Which number is more likely to be spouted at the Tory conference if it's used in a speech on education?  100,000,  200,00 or some other number conjured from the ether?  



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